Spotlight on Censorship – The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Banned Books Week, Censorship, Office for Intellectual Freedom

Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
“The trouble with free speech is that it insists on living up to its name.” — Jonathan Yardley

The sometimes charming, sometimes heartbreaking The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is a delightful coming-of-age-tale that captures the bittersweet tumult of high school.  It has been challenged or banned publicly eleven times since 2002, and many additional challenges have been reported confidentially to the Office for Intellectual Freedom.  Notable was the challenge, along with seventeen other books, in Fairfax County (Virginia) elementary and secondary school libraries by a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools (PABBIS).  Whatever its definition of “bad books,” in this case the group objected to these titles because they “contain profanity and descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct, and torture.”

PABBIS claims, “You might be shocked at the sensitive, controversial and inappropriate material that can be found in books in K-12 schools.”  Completely overlooking the freedom to read and free expression protections afforded by the First Amendment — which are not limited to adults — and the value that this literature has for its readers, this group’s purpose is to “to provide information related to bad books in schools.”  To access its official list of “bad” books, users must confirm that they are at least eighteen years of age because some of the content of the books on the list is “extremely controversial.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of the most frequently banned or challenged books of 2009.  For example, the book was challenged on a Wyoming, Ohio high school district’s high school reading list for its frank descriptions of masturbation, sex, drugs, and suicide.  While juniors and seniors at the Hidden Valley and William Byrd high schools in Roanoke, Virginia can read the book, freshmen and sophomores must have parental permission to check it out.

Finally, in a win for the freedom to read, the library board of the West Bend Community Memorial Library in Wisconsin voted 9-0 to keep the book in the library’s young adult section.  Despite the four-month-long effort of West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries to move young adult books with sexually explicit passages to the adult section and label them as containing sexual content, the library board refused to remove, relocate, label, or otherwise restrict access to them.  (Read young adult librarian Kristin Pekoll’s account of the banning efforts in her article posted today at I Love Libraries.)

This profile concludes the Spotlight on Censorship Series for Banned Books Week 2010.  Remember that the First Amendment protects access to information and ideas that might be unorthodox or unpopular and that every week should celebrate banned books week.  Free people read freely!

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